According to an article on New Scientist, people may soon be growing vegetables without soil, pesticides, fresh water, soil and fossil fuels on a commercial basis. Sundrop Farms has opened the first commercial growing facility to accomplish this feat in Australia’s dessert. The farm, which has been over six years in the planning, hopes to grow 17,000 tons of tomatoes annually. The tomatoes are currently on shelves throughout Australia.
The first step in accomplishing the feat of growing tomatoes in the dessert comes from piping water from the nearby Spencer Gulf to the facility. A 127 meter high tower that sits over the farm containing 23,000 mirrors provides the power to desalinate the water which is then piped onto the 180,000 tomato plants located in a greenhouse that was built over a five-year period of 20,000 glass panels.
During the warm summer months, the greenhouse is lined with seawater soaked cardboard to maintain temperatures within the greenhouse. During the winter, solar energy is used to maintain the right growing temperatures.
Salt water is also used to control conditions within the facility so that insects do not survive. The seawater also sterilizes the air on the 20 hectare farm. Instead of soil, the plants are grown in coconut husks.
The farm is very labor intensive. Therefore, the farm employs 175 workers. If any weeds grow among the plants, then they are pulled out by hand. All harvesting is also done by hand. Currently, the facility is sending eight large trucks to market each day.
This first of its kind facility was funded mostly by a private investment firm who believes that this example can help solve food shortages around the world. The Australian government also contributed a $5 million dollar grant.
While Sundrop Farms hopes that their facility is a success, there are some who do not think this project is necessary. They point out that there are many places in Australia where tomatoes grow very well using traditional farming techniques.